Australian researchers have created the world’s first 3D-printed jet engine in a manufacturing breakthrough that engineers expect will lead to cheaper, lighter and more fuel-efficient jets.
The partnership between Monash University and spin-out company Amaero Engineering has captured the attention of Airbus, Boeing and defence contractor Raytheon. The breakthrough opens the door for engineers to make and test parts in days instead of months.
“[In the past you had to] melt, mould, carve and turn to get the final product,” said Professor Ian Smith, Monash University’s vice-provost for research. “This way we can very quickly get a final product, so the advantages of this technology are: One, for rapid prototyping and making a large number of prototypes quickly. Secondly, for being able to make bespoke parts that you wouldn’t be able to with classic engineering technologies.”
Professor Smith said he believed Monash was well placed to take advantage of the technology because the university made the materials as well as print the parts. “We’re the only centre [in the world] that’s developed the materials that goes into the printers so we can make stuff of sufficient quality,” he said. “That’s why the French aerospace industry and large companies like Safran, Microturbo and Airbus are wanting to work with Monash and work with Australian companies.”
It all began two years ago with a challenge from French aerospace company Safran. The company gave the Monash researchers one of their old engines and asked them to make a copy. The engineers passed with flying colours and are now making top-secret prototype parts for Safran, Boeing and Airbus.
Professor Smith said the capabilities of the technology were only “scratching the tip of the iceberg”. “We’ve talked about how it can be useful in the aerospace industry, but we see enormous applications in the biomedical industry,” he said. “For example, if you’re unfortunate enough to have one of those serious car accidents, you can be scanned in the scanner, that information can then be taken to a 3D printer, and while you’re on the operating table we can print those precise body parts you might need.” Technically known as additive manufacturing, it uses a high-powered laser to fuse powdered nickel, titanium or aluminium into the shape of objects.
Professor Smith said the discovery could be an opportunity for the declining manufacturing industry. “The real impact [of the car industry’s decline] is the demise of the supply chain industry that supports the automotive sector,” he said. “We would like to think that revolutionary, disruptive technologies like this can take the place of some of the more traditional industries. “We can build new industries or we can regenerate existing industries with these kinds of technologies.”
First public viewing attracts plenty of attention
The 3D-printed engine is on display at the Australian International Airshow in Avalon, Victoria. The cutting edge of military technology and hardware is on show, but Amaero’s tiny booth is gathering a large amount of attention. Even the chief scientist of the US Air Force, Dr Mica Endsley, has taken an interest in the project.
“[Dr Endsley said it was] very interesting, it’s an area they’re looking at right now and they see great opportunity, much as we do in the same area,” Amaero Engineering’s Dr Robert Hobbs said. Dr Hobbs said he hoped the technology would eventually create “spare parts on demand”. “Quite a lot of machinery in Australia is now getting older, particularly in the defence area,” he said. “Getting spare parts is not easy – it can take quite a lot of time. What we can do is turn these parts around very quickly.”
Photo and Source from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-25/3d-p…ginejpg/6262494